ARTneo Focuses on the Figure in Outside the Mainstream: Douglas Max Utter Selects

"Do You See Me Now" by Lauren McKenzie
"Do You See Me Now" by Lauren McKenzie Photo courtesy of ARTneo

Figurative painting, specifically portraiture, is one of, if not the most, relatable style of art. It's something we can identify with as a reflection of society and ourselves. Douglas Max Utter and Christopher L. Richards, the curator and collections manager for ARTneo, have combined forces to develop Outside the Mainstream, a group exhibition that peers into the various levels of figurative work and its interpretation. With so many excellent artists included in this show, we were hard pressed to choose which artworks to write about, but we left with a head full of contemplation.

Immediately upon walking into the gallery we are face to face with Anthony Van Rooy's "Untitled," which is perched above Patricia Zinmeister Parker's "Sis and Nan." Both artworks bring a suspended vulnerability to life with their melange of strong lines and architectural elements. Eric Rippert's "When You Sleep" and Nikki Woods' "Bed Lounger" seem to parallel each other. These two paintings almost wink at "The Nightmare" by Henry Fuseli, a painting that accurately depicts night terrors via a looming figure that sits on a sleeping woman's chest.

Katy Richards' "Painted Lips," featuring lipstick-smeared teeth, is perfectly suspended above "31," by Frank Oriti. These two paintings unpack voyeurism with perpendicular wrinkles that offer up wisdom beyond the artists' young years.

August F. Biehle's "Untitled, Seated Nude" delivers mark-making so directional that it gives movement to the figure that sits upon a candy coated cornucopia of pastels, a strong contrast to Clay Parker in-your-face "Happy Birthday to Me, How Full is My Cup," a large painting that will not be denied. In graphic-novel style, Parker punches our optic nerve with deep black lines and even stronger contrasts in this near-violent piece.

"Branes and Braun" by Mike Meier zaps us back to the 1950s-era sci-fi flicks. A gray-scale spaceman (or spacewoman) stands before us with its ray gun. Its helmet seems way too heavy for its shoulders as a typical nuclear family watches on.

The stunning mixed media collage work by powerhouse artist Dexter Davis, "Mental Circus I," exposes invincibility as well as openness and quietude.

Hanging outside ARTneo, we were delighted to view Lauren McKenzie's "Do You See Me Now." McKenzie's work focuses on her relationship with being an artist of color. In this painting, McKenzie exercises her magical use of color blocking in such a way as to pull a dialogue about race and identity. Interestingly, we are ever so slightly reminded of German Expressionist painter Karl Schmidt-Rotluff's "Self Portrait with Hat."

Also along the exterior walls of the gallery are paintings by the mighty Rev. Albert Wagner, as well as one of our favorite pieces by Anna Arnold titled "The Warholic," a deep dive into pop culture in both content and execution.

Back inside the space, perhaps the most subjective artwork in this figurative exhibition comes from Douglas Max Utter's own collection. Amy Casey's "The Road Rises Up, Like a Wave" is a quiet painting, almost post-apocalyptic, with no actual personages in it. However, per our discussion with Christopher L. Richards, we heartily agreed that the absence of the figure is just as important as its presence. Casey wields a row of five sienna houses that seem to have been plucked from photographs from our collective lives. These wee structures surf an asphalt tsunami over a green lace grid. The black swish of oil paint oozes like tar and we wax nostalgic for the smell of rain on the wet pavement.

Also included in Outside the Mainstream are paintings by Utter, who was recently honored at ARTneo's annual benefit. In his recent painting, "Nancy Malone as a Girl," Utter employs his signature elan with color blocking and medium. His subject's face is barely exposed as she peeps through her blue veil of self. "Deposition" sits on the far wall. This large oeuvre is almost graffiti-esque with the artist's use of spray paint and latex. For sure, Utter's paintings sit among these prominent Cleveland artists like hosts of the coolest party ever.

This is a strong exhibition and riddled with talent. It left us thinking about the various interpretations of the figure, thoughts which certainly stayed with us long after we left. In fact, it's a show that, much like a finely crafted film, delivers more with each viewing.

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